Kicking off the guest posting is Will McDonald from Royals Review. Being a Royals fan is tough; I can't imagine what it must be like as a Royals blogger, but Will faithfully keeps his site going with entertaining and informative pieces and commentary, daily.
By decree of Zeus, all 2006 Royals retrospectives must begin something like this: On June 8, 2006 the Royals fell to 14-43, good for a .246 winning percentage and already 10 games behind the Devil Rays for the worst record in baseball. Three months and change later, the Royals owned a 58-91 record on September 16th. In between, they'd gone a respectable 44-48. Wow, Buddy Bell really kept those young 'uns focused, didn't he?
And, to be sure, it is an inexorably cool narrative, complete with jarring numbers. Nevertheless, major selection biases are at play here: if you take just about any team at its absolute worst, then find the day before they began their final meltdown, you'll find a chunk of decent baseball somewhere in there. This case is no different, as the Royals began one last 8-game losing streak on September 17th. However, the season did end in glory, with a three-game sweep of the Tigers which prevented the Michiganders from winning the AL Central, a highly important development thanks to Bud Selig's Wild Card. Ohh wait.
That 44-48 run featured Mark Teahen posting a 1.000+ OPS for weeks at a time, John Buck's random impersonation of a good hitter and Mark Redman's mini-run of deceny which culminated in his bizarre All-Star selection by Ozzie Guillen. Ohh yea, multiple games against the National League were also involved.
If the next relevant Royals team starts play in 2008 then the only players from 2006 who matter much are Teahen, DeJesus some selection from Buck/Costa/Gathright/Shealy and an odd relief pitcher or two. If you consider Zack Greinke a member of the immortal '06 team, you can throw him in there as well. I guess this is a short way of saying the 2006 Royals generally wasted everyone's time, although some people got paid for it, while others only sent countless hours into oblivion writing about them.
For the third consecutive season the Royals fielded a team without a single discernable skill. The Royals didn't hit for average, they didn't take walks, they hit for absolutely no power and they were bad on the bases. While the 2005 pitching staff was merely "really bad", the 2006 edition, despite some psuedo-notable free agent signings/trades (Mays, Elarton, Redman) in the winter was actually worse. In fact, the 2006 Royals were one of the worst pitching staffs of all-time.
Beyond that, the Royals featured a player getting hit in the face with a routine flyball, a starting pitcher and his catcher exchanging blows during a game and a fan throwing a foul ball back to/at the pitcher during the final home game. The Royals beloved owner David Glass said he was going to fire Allard Baird, then didn't for weeks, for no apparent reason. At the final Baird press conference, the Royals were unhappy with the pointedness of a few questions and responded by revoking their press credentials. Then, they started their own "blog" to disseminate the truth. Beyond all this, Jackson County suffered through a contentions stadium-money election, complete with the expected Seligean gambit of a promised All-Star Game with a week to go. Despite a sympathetic media climate and a pro-bond advertising package that reached $1.3 million (against essentially nothing spent by the non-existent "anti" group) the measure passed with only 53% of the vote, signalling an increasing discontent in the city and an increased willingness to not believe Glass, etc and their promises.
Ohh, and the team's best pitching prospect in twenty years went semi-AWOL during Spring Training and was away from baseball due to an undisclosed mental problem for months.
It was quite a year.
Pitching & Defense- 971 Runs Allowed, 14th in the AL
The Royals were in a class by themselves on the mound in 2006 and it wasn't a good one. In allowing 971 runs, the Royals were 72 runs worse than anyone else in baseball, en route to the 21st most runs allowed all-time.
Most Runs Allowed, Single-Season, All-Time
19. 2000 Texas Rangers- 974
20. 1894 Pittsburgh Pirates- 972 (132 games)
21. 2006 KC Royals- 971
22. 2003 Texas Rangers- 969
23. 2001 Texas Rangers- 968
24. 1993 Colorado Rockies- 967
Of course, that those early '00s Rangers teams were miserable failures because of Arod's unclutch nature goes without saying, but being worse than the expansion, pre-humidor Rockies isn't a good sign.
The Royals struck out the fewest hitters in baseball (904) by a wide margin (the Orioles finished with 948) while walking the most in the league (637). Thats a solid formula for run-production. The Royals were just edged out for most homers allowed however, as the Orioles nudged them 216-213. Still, as with the offense, it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Royal Team ERA by Month
April- 5.95 (the Twins actually were 6.28 in April)
Those two mid-summer months of near 5.00 ERA pitching (not coincidentally, this was also during Interleague play) saved the Royals from allowing 1000 runs. Those were the Royals' glory days generally: Mark Teahen was hitting, Baird was fired, the team was merely bad not historically bad on the mound, and it all added up to two months of .450 baseball.
And yet, it was a below-replacement level pitching staff. The cumulative team VORP was -7.5 as the Royals watched 13 men start 5 or more games. 13. And, as Joe Posnanski pointed out, every single one of those 13 had an ERA over 5.00.
The Royals did it every which way in 2006. They gave extended looks to guys who couldn't pitch and they cut bait with other guys who were equally bad fairly quickly. It really didn't matter. Here's a look at the worst offenders, complied by one of my readers, The Worst Royals Pitchers, by VORP
Joe Mays -16.9 in only 23.7 IP
Hernandez -13.2 in 109.7 IP
Wood -7.7 in 64.7 IP
Sisco -7.6 in 58.3 IP
Stemle -6.1 in 6 IP
Duckworth -5.2 in 45.7 IP
Dohmann -4.9 in 23.7 IP
Affeldt -3.7 in 70 IP
Sure, Mays' -16.9 in 23.7 innings is something to behold, but a true connoisseur will appreciate the dedication behind Runelyvs Hernandez's -13.2 which was spread out over 109.7 innings and a weight-related trip to the DL/Omaha. 2006 was a season in which even supposed successes like Mark Redman and Luke Hudson still didn't actually work out that much in the aggregate as the two anchors of the staff posted 5.71 and 5.12 ERA's respectively.
My favorite Royal pitching stat of the year however is Jimmy Gobble leading the team in strikeouts with 80. First, thats pathetic on its face, even a bad team will find a way to have three or four 100+ strikeout guys. Secondly, in 148 innings in 2004, Gobble struck out 2.98 per 9 one of the five lowest totals of all-time. Two years later, he leads the team in Ks? Thirdly, Gobble only pitched 84 innings in 2006, working mostly as a reliever. Mark Redman pitched in 79 more innings than Gobble did, and finished four strikeouts behind him.
From the 7th inning on the Royals had a flat 6.00 ERA easily the worst in the American League. Among relievers the Royals got good work out of Moore-pickup Todd Wellemeyer (3.63 ERA/13.6 VORP in 57 innings), Joel Peralta (4.40 ERA/13.0 VORP in 73.6 innings) and eventual closer Joe Nelson (4.43 ERA/8.3 VORP in 44.6 innings). In fact, those three led the team in pitcher VORP, a tribute to the ineffectiveness and lack of work done by the starting rotation. While his ERA/RA was a tad high, it is to the Royals credit that a decent 84 innings were milked out of Jimmy Gobble (5.14 ERA/5.6 VORP) who's move to the bullpen looks like a good one. As mentioned above, his 2004 K/9 was 2.98. In 2006 it was 8.57. Rounding out the 'pen, despite flashes and a umm, flashy fastball, Ambiorix Burgos remained stress-inducing in 2006 (5.52 ERA/0.5 VORP). Burgos was actually out-VORP by a returned from self-exile Zac/k Greinke, who posted a 1.3 VORP in 3 innings of work during the season's final week.
Last but not last, Self-Appointed Team Effort Inspector Scott Elarton didn't quite work out in KC. Elarton finished with a pedestrian 4.3 VORP in 114 bland, strikeout-devoid innings of replacement level baseball.
In short, the 2006 Royals had no truly "good" (if we might use that broad label) pitchers, they featured four or five "OK" guys and everyone else was varying shades of bad. Quite a few were very bad. Despite numerous defensively-minded moves (the Gathright trade, the Minky signing) the Royals featured a below-average defense, ranking 28th in BP's imperfect yet vaguely useful Defensive Efficiency tool.
Offense- 757 Runs Scored, 12th in the AL
The Royals improved by 56 runs in 2006 (although the 2005 edition was also 12th in the League) although it didn't always look like that modest improvement would be in the cards. The Royals were last in the League in runs scored in April and 13th in May. Beginning in June however, the Royals managed to attain the heights of mediocrity:
Royals Runs Scored Ranking, By Month
Obviously, it's a crude way of looking at things this way, with caveats about the number of games and competition thrown out the window. Nevertheless, the tool's crude enough to almost be more effective in its own way: the Royals started out horrible at the plate, but for most of the year were OK.
Not that there weren't basic flaws in the lineup. The second-half miracle run at adequacy was batting average driven, as the Royals posted a post-break BA up to .277, 6th best in the league. Thanks to those singles and just enough patience from the revamped core of the lineup, the Royals kept their head above water OBP wise with a post-break mark of .336 (7th). Thus, despite a still sub-necessary SLG in the second-half (.418, 12th) the Royals were able to field a competent lineup for large chunks of the year. That being said, the Royals fell behind the Mariners, Devil Rays and A's this year in the perpetual battle for lowest SLG in the AL with an overall mark of .411. The Royals finished solidly last in homers as well, with their paltry 124 a distant 19 behind the 13th-place Twins.
Friends don't let friends name Mientkiewicz the starting first-baseman.
Not surprisingly, the Royals led the American League in sacrifices with 52, seven more than anyone else. Considering the lineup regularly featured at least three sub .600 OPS hitters, this may not be as appalling as it first appears. Despite the heralded acquisition of Joey Gathright, the Royals didn't run much, finishing 8th in the league in steals; the Royals were one of the generic teams in the middle for whom no solid comment is possible, they weren't a running or non-running team, they just were. Of course, they still weren't good at running the bases, finishing 13th with a 66% success rate.
Before jumping into the individual performances we should say something about park effects. After quietly emerging as Coors-East in the early `00s (including a 117 park factor in 2002) the K has remerged as a more or less neutral park. Nevertheless, I believe the safe assumption is still that once summer begins Kansas City is a good hitter's environment. The fences were moved back in 2004 and it still isn't clear just exactly how this new park will play.
Top Five Royal Hitters by OPS:
Esteban German: .326/.422/.459 (.880)
Mark Teahen: .290/.357/.517 (.874)
Emil Brown: .287/.358/.457 (.815)
David DeJesus: .295/.364/.446 (.810)
Ryan Shealy: .280/.338/.451 (.789)
Aaron Guiel actually posted a .799 OPS in 19 games before being cut by the Royals which tells you all you need to know about the year that was. Of the five listed above, only Emil Brown played in more than 119 games (147). DeJesus got hurt early in the season and played in only 119 games, Teahen (famously) was demoted in June and injured in September en route to only appearing in 109 games and German was willingly under-used by the KC braintrust, appearing in only 106 games, with a large chunk of those as a pinch-hitter.
Thus, the team's OPS leader managed to rank 9th on the team in plate appearances, despite his being able to play six positions. Further, German stepped to the plate 172 times less than Angel Berroa (503 to 331) in 2006, even though Berroa was one of the worst hitters in baseball, hitting .234/.259/.333. Will Esteban German ever post an .880 OPS again? Not likely, but that really isn't the issue, as the Royals essentially wasted his career season due to their own neglect. Of German's 331 PAs, 105 came in September and October when multiple injuries forced the team to play him. Luckily, he could also not be traded anymore either.
If we try to remain positive however, the discussion should begin and end with Mark Teahen who had a two-month run as one of the best hitters in baseball and for the season's final four months was an All-Star level player. Much has been written about Teahen's turnaround, but in sum, after a horrible start he was demoted, only to return with a .305/.352/.463 June and a .319/.442/.692 July. In August Teahen hit only .317/.368/.537. After being slightly-off-peak Arod for three months Teahen slogged through an-injured, hackfestian September hitting .300/.300/.450. The good news is that he plays the same position as the Royals #1 minor league player. Beyond German's random success and Teahen's emergence/half-season of his life the Royals got adequate play from Emil Brown, David DeJesus and to a lesser extent Mark Grudzielanek (.297/.331/.409), who was, of course, pointlessly resigned for 2007 by the Royals midseason. Not that it matters much beyond mere academics, but clearly you aren't going to field a good offense when your best hitters are merely "good" hitters. Actually, Brown and Grudz aren't really pushing the team forward as much as not being horrible. Sadly, you can say the same for Mike Sweeney at this point and (although others would disagree) the probably close to topped out Ryan Shealy, who's already 27 and is a immovable 1B/DH.
Whats most frustrating is that the Royals took their only (pre-Teahen explosion) legitimate asset and of their own volition devalued him. By all accounts David DeJesus is an acceptable-to-good defensive centerfielder who can post an .800 OPS in his sleep. Thats a good thing. However, in Dayton Moore's signature move (to date, hopefully) the Royals swapped out J.P. Howell for Joey Gathright and moved DeJesus into left field. Goodbye positional advantage/asset, hello substandard bat in a corner position. On top of this, the move also necessitated actually giving Joey Gathright at bats. In the name of "speed and defense" the Royals went from a "generic-good-generic" configuration to a "bad-horrible-generic" one. Now, we all understand that defense is the new OBP, but I'm not sure theres a level of defense that can make up for that shift, especially when, unlike the 2005 White Sox, the Royals don't have many good hitters elsewhere on the diamond. Gathright was Gathright, hitting .238/.321/.292 in 263 PAs. He did his damnedest to get on-base, but he's still utterly powerless, can't hit for an adequate average and features a hole-filled swing. But, he is fast, and the pyschological effects of speed on the opposing pitcher are something that is revered at the level of a minor Hindu diety amongst the Old-School set, so Gathright it is.
All of that being said, the Royals are lucky to have finished with 757 runs at all. The bottom of the order regularly featured multiple varieties of horribleness as the Royals carried a significant amount of dead lineup weight all season. While Teahen blossomed, fellow Beltran-trade acquiree John Buck hit .245/.306/.396. For the third year in a row, Buck mixed in his share of truly awful months along with one good one. Here's his OPS by month: .598, .673, .952, .550, .646, .844. That last number you see is his .300/.364/.480 September, when the Royals limited him to 54 PAs, his lowest total since April. Fortunately, Buck's primary backup was the immortal Paul Bako who spared the Royals the confusion by never having a good month at all, going .209/.261/.229. Yes, he slugged .229. Not to be outdone, the Royals gave 66 PAs to third catcher Paul Phillips, who rewarded them with a .277/.284/.369 line.
Finally, there's the matter of Angel Berroa, for whom Dayton Moore told the Kansas City Star,
"There are tools there, and I've learned that you stay with tools. You have to be patient with players, but players have to produce. They understand that."
Where's Lewis Black when you need him? Berroa was awful in 2006, just like he was in 2005 and in 2004. He's seen by the consensus as a bad defensive SS (a huge problem) and he's simply eroded beyond repair at the plate. He will turn 28 in January and now owns a career line of .264/.305/.386. To be sure, his likely replacement Andres Blanco isn't a good hitter either, but he's likely a better hitter going forward and is certainly better defensively. Nevertheless, Buddy Bell is on record as saying, "Blanco has got a long way to go even before he considers himself in Angel Berroa's category". Needless to say, Dayton Moore is also a big fan of ole Buddy himself, so its just a jolly mutual admiration society here in KC.
The general belief is that the Royals will have a good lineup someday, when Gordon and his friends join the team. However, this obviously didn't mean much for the 2006 team, and, if recent comments and personnel moves are any indication, the Royals can be expected to under-utilize their resources going forward. Serious questions remain unanswered and Dayton Moore must answer them in both a timely and correct fashion. At 1B/3B/DH/C-OF the Royals have a serious logjam, with Shealy, Sweeney, Gordon, Teahen as well as Justin Huber, Billy Butler, Shane Costa and Chris Lubanski fighting for limited space. Moore must figure out how to maximize this parcel of talent, while trading the superfluous players for talent to be used on other parts of the roster. If the Gathright fixation continues, you can add David DeJesus into that motely crew. Its odd that the most anxiety would be centered on the lineup for a team coming off an historically bad pitching staff, and, to be sure, the pitching staff must improve by 100-150 runs before the Royals can expect to be a .500 team. However, after granting that improving a sub-replacement-level pitching staff should only be a matter of throwing enough guys at the wall and seeing what sticks, we can also see that the two concerns are interrelated: the Royals have a modest cache of position-player prospects and must find a way to have them (whoever that "them" ends up being) poised to contend as soon as possible, while they remain affordable. The horizon remains cloudy in Kansas City, but the storm may be slowly breaking up.
Thanks once again to Will for writing up this review. You can find more of Will's work at Royals Review.